Coconut Cream vs. Coconut Milk

One of These Things is Not Like the Other: Coconut Cream vs Coconut Milk

If you are considering using coconut derivatives in your cooking, there may be two products that are causing you some confusion.

These, of course, are coconut milk and coconut cream.

If you were to look at the ingredient labels of these products, it wouldn’t really appear that there is all that much dissimilar about them.

So, when it comes to coconut cream vs. coconut milk, what is the difference between these products and how do you use them?

Well, you can expect to find the answers to these questions here:

The Difference Between Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream

To begin with, let’s take a look at how coconut milk is made.

Here, grated coconut flesh is soaked in water. The coconut is then squeezed, expelling a white liquid. This is coconut milk.

OK, so how is coconut cream made, then?

This is the kicker: coconut cream involves the same ingredients and the same process as coconut milk. That’s right, coconut cream is made when coconut soaked in water is pressed to produce a liquid.

So, is coconut cream the same as coconut milk? Where does the difference come in?

No, coconut cream and coconut milk are not the same. Let’s explain.

Have you ever opened a can of coconut milk only to find that it has separated into two distinct layers?

One layer will be solid, white, and fatty. The other will be paler and definitely a liquid.

The solid layer is coconut cream and the liquid one is coconut milk.

These two components are pretty similar to one another. The main distinction is that coconut cream has a higher fat content than coconut milk.

This is why it solidifies at cooler temperatures, separating from the liquid portion of the coconut milk.

A Side Note

It should be noted that coconut milk is more readily available than coconut cream. Thus, you should always check the labels before buying them.

While full fat coconut cream may seem to be similar to coconut cream, this isn’t the case. Coconut cream is still thicker and contains more fat per serving.

cheesecake with coconut cream

How Coconut Milk is Used in Recipes

Now, let’s consider how coconut milk can be used in your cooking.

There are some people who use it as a dairy-free alternative for cereals and coffee.

However, you should be aware that this is the boxed coconut milk and often a heavily diluted version of freshly squeezed coconut milk.

When it comes to recipes, this ingredient may be utilized in:

  • Curries
  • Sauces
  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Desserts

How Coconut Cream is Used in Recipes

Coconut cream may actually be included in some Southeast Asian curries or sauces that require a thicker base.

However, it is more likely to be used as:

  • Non-dairy whipped cream
  • Ingredient in non-dairy ice cream
  • Desserts

Coconut Cream vs. Cream of Coconut

If things weren’t confusing enough, there is also something known as cream of coconut.

Despite its name, though, it isn’t the same as coconut cream.

Cream of coconut is an extremely sweetened version of coconut milk. It can either be made from coconut or coconut water.

This food item can’t be used as a substitute for either coconut milk or coconut cream.

It is most commonly used in drinks such as pina coladas or desserts.

Can I Use Coconut Milk Instead of Coconut Cream?

As mentioned, coconut milk and coconut cream are rather similar.

So, if a recipe calls for coconut cream, but you only have coconut milk, is that a suitable alternative?

Unfortunately, coconut milk isn’t a great substitute for coconut cream. Since it has a much lower fat percentage and a much higher water percentage, it will dilute the recipe quite a bit.

In addition to having a thinner consistency, coconut milk will also cause the dish or dessert to be significantly less creamy.

As coconut milk is essentially liquid, you will not have the thickness or firmness necessary to whip it for whipped cream either.

In case you are wondering about full fat coconut milk vs. coconut cream – well, there may be something that you can do.

Here, you can place the can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge and wait for several hours for the solid layer to separate from the liquid one.

Then, it is just a matter of scooping the solid layer away – voila, coconut cream!

Keep in mind that some coconut milk brands contain ingredients that prevent the liquid from separating.

If you have purchased one of these, it may not be possible to retrieve the coconut cream.

coconut cream breakfast cereal

Can I Substitute Coconut Cream for Coconut Milk?

OK, so you can’t use coconut milk instead of coconut cream. What about vice versa?

Fortunately, coconut cream can be used as a substitute for coconut milk!

First, though, you will have to dilute the coconut cream with water. When it has reached a consistency that is more similar to coconut milk, it can be added to your recipe.

Of course, this can’t be done if you are looking for coconut milk to use as a beverage. Boxed coconut milk tends to have a much more subtle taste. Not to mention, it has fewer calories and fat to boot.

Nonetheless, if you are looking for coconut milk for a curry or sauce, then the thinned-out coconut cream will work well.

So, that’s the final answer to how coconut milk and coconut cream are different from one another. While they are prepared using the same ingredients and in the same manner, they differ in fat content and texture.

Coconut milk is liquid and contains less fat. Coconut cream has a more solid composition and boasts a higher fat content as well. 

Riya Borah


Riya Borah 

Nutritionist Educator

Riya Borah is a nutritionist educator and her job involves guiding people towards a healthier lifestyle. Growing up in India, Riya was aware of just how much coconut was used on a daily basis. This encouraged her to research the properties of this versatile drupe. It opened her eyes to both the limitation and possibilities of coconut. Her aim is to now educate as many people as possible about the best ways to utilize coconut in their own lives.

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